For many years, I tried to identify the key differences between liberals and conservatives, the functional definitions, beyond the hot-button issues. I have not completely given up on that, but I have decided that the division between left and right is secondary, that there are more important considerations.
To start, one of the things I found was that if I ventured too far out to the right, I went down the rabbit hole and came out on the far left. Or maybe the worm hole, something like Einstein’s daydream of a circular universe. Because the unifying characteristic of the far right, and the far left, is intolerance. My working hypothesis is that at the political extremes, is that adherents put ideology above people.
Extremists see the world through their own paradigms; they don’t try to design paradigms to fit the needs of people, but fit people to the needs of their paradigms. When you’re a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. So hammers don’t see people; they only see inconsequential objects that are out, half-out, or all the way in. Those that are not all-in, need to be beaten in. Beaten into the frame, beaten into the concrete, beaten into order as the hammer sees it.
If you go far enough to the right you get a Hitler; far enough to the left, a Stalin or a Mao. And the difference to real people would be… ? Again, it’s a worm hole.
Look at the picture here. It is a portrait of Tomás de Torquemada, the first Spanish Grand Inquisitor. In the name of an all-loving God he is believed to have overseen the executions of over 2,000 people, and the torture of many times that number, all because they disagreed with him. He claimed, of course, that they disagreed with God, but by an amazing coincidence, he and God agreed perfectly. Just as with many religious extremists today, he had no doubt that his actions were perfect and perfectly logical expressions of his faith. If that sounds ridiculous, we only need to look around at political and religious extremists today.
And we need to keep looking around until the worm hole brings us back to our own beliefs.
Extremists tend to deride moderates as wishy-washy and indecisive. But what is it to be a firm conservative or a firm liberal, except to be inflexible, religious? As I noted, If everybody’s thinking the same way, who’s thinking? So to be anything except a moderate suggests that we’re inescapably tied to a particular conformity. It implies we’re closed-minded, unthinking. Faithless.
Repeatedly in these posts I have talked about Truth, and the problems it causes. Looking at the extremes, left vs right, creationist vs Darwinist, Christian vs Muslim, I began to realize that extremists place their personal version of Truth above people. Perhaps that is the defining characteristic of the extremist, they are so sure that they are right, so sure that only they see Truth, that they become unconcerned with the suffering they cause. It’s the Lucy van Pelt syndrome: “I love humanity.
“It’s people I can’t stand.”
As I noted above, I finally decided that the political left and right are secondary distinctions and primary distractions; the overarching distinctions are moderate and extremist. I suspect that only moderates are free to place real people above ideology: fragile, fearful, confused people. And above everything else, it’s people that I worry about.
Which is why I am a bleeding heart moderate.
‘Rabbit Hole’ courtesy Academia L´Hôpital.
Torquemada courtesy Wikimedia.org.